COLUMBIA, S.C. — Today, you applaud perfection. And you try not to worry about how homely it looks.
The University of Florida has done it again. It has won another game, and it has resisted another heartbreak. And so 10 games into a season, the Gators remain perfect. Strangely, illogically, defiantly perfect.
Is it talent? Sure. Is it luck? Perhaps. Does it matter? Not yet.
For now, there is no reason to grade on a curve. Florida is unbeaten and sitting at the top of the polls. The Gators have won 20 consecutive games, and Alabama is the only Southeastern Conference program with longer winning streaks in the past 50 years.
"Honest to God, it's not about style points as far as we're concerned," assistant coach Dan McCarney said. "Let's just get the win. That's 20 in a row, and that's almost unheard of in this lifetime. Let's see if we can keep it going."
It's a strange thing to witness the defense of perfection. But there is Urban Meyer, week after week, being asked to explain the shortcomings of an unblemished season. He grins a lot. He chafes a little. And he probably tosses and turns in between.
He says he stopped turning on his computer after the Tennessee game back in September, and that's probably a good thing. For some message boards seem strangely critical, and the call-in shows can grow occasionally testy.
It's not that style points matter in October or November. It's how they extrapolate to December and January.
Generally, it's not hard to spot the favorites for the national championship. They're the team that punishes challengers. They're the team that embarrasses the less fortunate. They're the team winning 45-3.
And that has not been Florida this season.
"It's real frustrating," Meyer said Saturday when asked about the offense's struggles. "But it eases the pain when we win the game."
In retrospect, it is what Florida does best. Winning, that is. The Gators do not have a terrific offense. They do not have a ridiculous advantage in turnovers. They are not as exciting or as dynamic as some teams in the recent past.
But when it comes to making plays that decide games, the Gators are virtually without peer. In Saturday's 24-14 victory against South Carolina, it was Justin Trattou's 53-yard interception return on the first play of the fourth quarter that kept Florida unbeaten.
And do not take an 8-0 record in the SEC for granted. The Gators didn't go 8-0 in the SEC when they won the national championship last season. Or when they were national champions in 2006. The only 8-0 teams in the SEC in the past decade were Alabama in 2008 and Auburn in 2004. The last time Florida was perfect was 13 years ago, in Steve Spurrier's lone national championship season.
"That's why I'm trying to make sure we stay grounded as a team and understand that that's a win over an SEC opponent," Meyer said. "And we've won 20 straight games. So enjoy it, and then let's get back to work."
The thing is, when you think of a perfect record, you think of dominance. Like in 1996, when UF went undefeated in the league and outscored opponents by 33 points a game. Or '95, when the Gators outscored SEC teams by 28.6 points a game. This season, Florida is winning league games by a far less imposing 15.6 points a game.
And it's not just a question of running up the score in lopsided matchups. The Gators have won five of their league games by 10 points or fewer. In '96, only two of their games were that close. In '95, no SEC opponent got within 10 points of Florida.
"I don't care if we win by one point," said receiver Riley Cooper of Clearwater. "We're a different style team this year. We're a tough team. We wear other teams down. That's just how we are."
Yes, but how will that translate against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game in three weeks? Or in a possible national championship game in January?
You can say the Gators will be battle tested, and that will give them an advantage going forward. Or you can say they have been fortunate to survive so many close calls, and eventually their lack of explosion will cost them.
On this day, at least, it doesn't matter. Florida has not lost in more than a year and has reason to celebrate.
Today, the Gators are perfect.
Not beautiful, just perfect.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.